Nova Scotia

Halifax advocate says parts of Queen's Marque design are unsafe

Milena Khazanavicius said as a person who is blind, right now she could easily fall into the stairs since there are no tactile markers.

Develop Nova Scotia says the concerns are important and changes are coming

Stairs leading into the Halifax Harbour are a feature of the Queen's Marque's public space. (CBC)

A Halifax woman who is blind says the new Queen's Marque stairs pose a major safety risk, but the organization behind the area says they're working to address the issue.

Like many Haligonians, Milena Khazanavicius recently took a stroll along the newly-opened section of waterfront boardwalk that had been blocked for months due to the Queen's Marque project.

There are now a set of wide stairs leading from a courtyard down into the harbour, where it's been suggested people could swim, fish, or launch kayaks.

But Khazanavicius was surprised to find no tactile markers at all on the stairs alerting people who are blind or partially sighted about an elevation change, which are used at many street corners or in front of the Central Library.

"Had I not been holding on to the arm of my friend, I would have toppled right over. They are pretty significant in their depth," Khazanavicius told CBC's Information Morning on Monday.

"It's just an accident waiting to happen," she said.

Besides the stairs, she said a friend of hers has also run into issues with a patio area in the same courtyard. Despite being a very skilled cane user, Khazanavicius said he was "tangled up" in the tables and chairs, and had to have someone help him navigate out.

Khazanavicius said this layout doesn't follow the Halifax municipality's new policy that temporary patios on the sidewalk or road must have a barrier at ground level.

The boardwalk patio set up for the Queen's Marque as of early December 2021. (CBC)

The Queen's Marque is a multimillion-dollar project that includes office and residential space, a luxury hotel, and restaurants. It was developed and led by the Armour Group, in partnership with Crown corporation Develop Nova Scotia.

The bike lane running in the area along Lower Water Street is also an issue for those who are blind, Khazanavicius said, since there are only "tiny" tactile markings not significant enough for a cane to detect between the bike lane and the sidewalk on Lower Water Street.

She added in an email that while there are grey cement pillars in the area, someone with low sight could not pick up on them as they blend together with the pavement.

Develop N.S. has been responsive so far, Khazanavicius said. She recently sent a team from the corporation along the Lower Water Street sidewalk while blindfolded, and they wandered into the bike lane.

Milena Khazanavicius is concerned about the lack of safety features around the Queen's Marque, including the stairs and current patio set-up. (Emma Davie/CBC)

President and CEO of Develop N.S., Jennifer Angel, said they've been hearing "a lot" from disability advocates about challenges along the boardwalk, particularly areas without tactile strips, the placement of outdoor furniture, and the need for Braille on signs.

Angel said while the stairs were designed by a team employed by the Armour Group, Develop N.S. were "absolutely" involved in approving the final design for the public space of the project, including the stairs.

"We're trying to create places where everyone can feel safe and participate. And the work is never done. It's about continuous improvement," Angel said Monday afternoon.

She said the Queen's Marque area is still not completely finished, and her team are sitting down with the Armour Group to determine what can be added to improve accessibility, and address safety issues that have been raised.

Jennifer Angel is president and CEO of Develop Nova Scotia, which operates the public area on the Halifax waterfront including around the Queen's Marque. (CBC)

Angel said they are considering a few options on how to make the stairs safer, which could include tactile strips or another type of design intervention. In the meantime, Angel said they're also discussing whether there should be a temporary change to ensure that everyone can access the site safely.

The patio areas along the building are also incomplete, Angel said, but should be set up in a permanent way that addresses accessibility concerns by the spring.

There are no plans on their end right now to make changes to the bike lane, but Angel said she's not discounting the possibility.

In an email, municipal spokesperson Brynn Budden said there are brick pavers on either edge of the bike lane that help to delineate it, but agreed "newer guidance requires different tactile surfaces as design standards change over time."

Budden said a challenge is that the bike lane on Lower Water Street at the Queen's Marque is in a "fairly constrained area" that limits design options for adding separation features between the bike lane and sidewalk.

"There are plans to install further measures that more clearly indicate to users where they are supposed to be when the remainder of the street is upgraded based on council-approved budgets," Budden said.

With files from Information Morning

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